This week the Charlotte Observer carried an op-ed penned by the interim president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) Brian Jodice entitled “Public money for private school scholarships is working, and will soon expand dramatically” (https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article215498550.html).
The premise of the piece is celebratory as explained in the first line:
“Thursday marks the anniversary of a major victory in the fight for educational freedom in North Carolina.”
Five years ago, the NCGA opened up the Opportunity Grants or as many would call them vouchers which take public taxpayer money and funnel it to private schools.
If Jodice wants to declare victory for choice, then that is his privilege. Yes, almost 7400 students use the vouchers, but in his claim of victory that is his only real hard piece of evidence to draw upon. That, and the fact that he has an NCGA that is bent on throwing money at vouchers even though they have not been proved overall as effective.
Jodice took over for Darrell Allison who recently joined the American Federation For Children, a school choice advocacy group in Washington D.C. founded by none other than Betsy DeVos. And like Allison, Jodice has to cheer-lead for the PEFNC, even if it means negating the lack of substance about how well the voucher system is doing in North Carolina.
Almost a year ago, Lindsay Wagner wrote a piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” that showcased one of the primary redundancies purposefully used by funded “school choice” advocates in the quest to make sure that the best way to argue for “freedom in choosing schools” in North Carolina is to control what information parents have in “choosing” educational avenues for their students.
Wagner focused much of her article on the most vocal proponent of the school choice movement in North Carolina at that time – Darrell Allison, the then-leader of PEFNC. She raised a rather glaring inconsistency when it came to whether vouchers were really helping low-income students.
The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.
Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).
It makes one wonder if Jodice has a better explanation for what Allison could not really explain. Other than money from the NCGA and people who are taking the money, the fact still stands that NC’s voucher program is not regulated and can not be measured.
Last year, Duke University released a rather damning report on the Opportunity Grants in NC. The entire report can be found here: https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.
It would be interesting to see if Jodice , who uses the editorial page of what might be the biggest newspaper in the state to tout the voucher system, could refute or explain the following excerpted observations:
- Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (3).
- Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. In contrast, similar public school students in NC are scoring above the national average (3).
- The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so (3).
- Previous research on North Carolina private schools in general showed that more than 30% of private schools in North Carolina are highly segregated (more than 90% of students of one race) and 80% enroll more than half of the same race.10 Without data on racial enrollments in voucher schools, it is not clear whether vouchers contribute to school segregation. Because of the overall data on private schools, however, the voucher program may well be contributing to increasing school segregation (7).
- Of the participating schools, less than 20% were secular schools; more than 80% were religious schools. This does not line up exactly with the percentages of vouchers used at religious schools versus secular schools (93% at religious schools), because several religious schools enrolled large numbers of students (8).
- The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students (8).
- Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (12).
- In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. North Carolina’s limited oversight reflects a policy decision to leave the quality control function primarily to individual families. Under North Carolina law, private schools are permitted to make their own decisions regarding curriculum, graduation requirements, teacher qualifications, number of hours/days of operation, and, for the most part, testing. No accreditation is required of private schools (13).
- Unlike some laws, the law creating the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program does not set out its purpose (15).
- In fact, there is no requirement that the participating private schools meet any threshold of academic quality. Thus, to the extent that the program was established to provide options for better academic outcomes for children, nothing in the program’s design assures or even promotes that outcome (15-16).
- THE LEGISLATIVE DECISION TO EXEMPT VOUCHER STUDENTS FROM PARTICIPATING IN THE STANDARD STATE END-OF-GRADE TESTS MEANS THAT NO RESEARCHER WILL EVER BE ABLE TO MAKE AN “APPLES-TO-APPLES” COMPARISON BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND VOUCHER STUDENTS (18).
- The North Carolina program allows for participation in the program by children who are not in failing schools and by private schools that do not offer a more academically promising education (19).
The positively charged diction that Jodice uses in his op-ed doesn’t seem to drown out the cold reality of that study.
Jodice’s reference to the recent NC State study is probably the biggest indicator that what he pins his hope upon to verify the validity of the voucher program is not stable at all. And it should not be worthy of praise because he deliberately misspeaks what the conclusion of that study was.
“Early academic evaluation is encouraging. In June, independent researchers from NC State University released findings from the first-ever academic analysis of the program, revealing “large, positive impacts” on student achievement associated with using a scholarship. Follow-up studies are needed, but this early report card represents very good news.”
Even the people who conducted the study cautioned against drawing conclusions. This is from WUNC – http://www.wunc.org/post/researchers-say-nc-voucher-program-needs-closer-look-they-can-give#stream/0.
That sample they used? Over half were from established Catholic schools in NC which represent in reality a very small percentage of the voucher recipient pool. In fact, that study has been attacked so much from non-academics that it begs to ask why it was done in the first place. That’s how many holes it has.
Yes, there will be students who are successful who use the vouchers. The student that Jodice highlights is one of them. But while the student may be successful does not mean that the program is successful because measuring the effects of the voucher system in comparison to traditional public schools is impossible.
It’s meant that way.
NC’s voucher system is by far the least regulated in the country. Back to the Duke report:
That’s very telling. The lack of measurables in NC’s voucher program allows for Jodice to make claims that while sparkling carry no real substance.
Just like his op-ed.